THAT OLD CAPE MAGIC by Richard Russo

Book Quote:

“Only love made such a leap possible. Only love related one thing to all other things, putting all your eggs into a single basket—that dumbest yet most courageous and thrilling of all economic strategies.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky (AUG 5, 2009)

Fifty-five year old Jack Griffin has been in a funk for a very long time. The only child of dysfunctional and embittered college professors, he proudly asserts that he aggressively rejected his mother and father’s warped values, their snobbery, their refusal to compromise, and their chronic dissatisfaction. In Richard Russo’s bittersweet That Old Cape Magic, Griffin discovers, much to his chagrin, that he has inherited his parents’ negativity and selfishness. He may pay a steep price for his failure to come to terms with his troubled past. Jack’s wife of thirty years, the ironically named Joy, is growing weary of her husband’s immaturity and discontent.

Richard Russo is a master storyteller who, with humor and wit, demonstrates how certain people perversely destroy what is most precious to them. Jack’s parents were academics who never achieved the professional glory that they craved. Both were adulterers, although his father was a more blatant philanderer. His mother and father ignored Jack and were critical of his choices. Joy, on the other hand, came from a noisy and large blue-collar family, and she always felt loved and valued. Although Jack enjoyed brief success as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, he and his wife eventually moved to Connecticut, where they raised their daughter, Laura. Although Jack and his wife still care for one another, they are gradually drifting apart; soon, their relationship may be beyond repair.

That Old Cape Magic goes back and forth in time, giving us glimpses into Griffin’s memories, dreams, fears, and regrets. Each character in the book sees reality differently, and we sometimes wonder if anyone’s “truth” can be taken at face value. Russo creates some amusingly quirky individuals, including Laura’s college friend, a stiff and proper Korean named Sunny Kim, who is academically brilliant but socially inept; Tommy, Jack’s friend and collaborator, who is as every bit as short-sighted and self-involved as his old pal; Joy’s father, Harve, whom Griffin denigrates for his lack of breeding and bad taste; and Marguerite, an attractive but needy woman whose kind heart has been broken once too often. Russo embellishes each scene and conversation with exquisite detail, lively dialogue, and well-crafted figurative language. As we get to know and understand Jack Griffin, we sympathize with his angst. At the same time, we want to shake him for behaving so childishly.

The author inserts a number of delightfully comic moments into his narrative. They feature such props as a too-tall Christmas tree, a collapsing ramp, a talkative and opinionated ghost, an urn filled with ashes, and a pair of pugnacious twins. The concluding pages are a bit too busy; Russo goes off in too many directions as he frantically tries to wrap up his story. Fortunately, he manages to come up with a conclusion that is both satisfying and entertaining.

The title is a metaphor for the power of fantasy. Jack’s father believed in the special qualities of Cape Cod, hoping that if he and his wife surrounded themselves with beauty, then harmony, tenderness, and passion would somehow prevail over discord, anger, and indifference. Jack’s parents learned to their dismay that, although a lovely place may revitalize a marriage, it cannot work its magic indefinitely. A loving partnership is created and sustained by mature individuals who, in spite of their flaws and life’s inevitable disappointments, make a valiant effort to treat one another with understanding and compassion.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 133 readers
PUBLISHER: Knopf (August 4, 2009)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Richard Russo
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read a review of Empire FallsThe Best American Short Stories 2010 edited by Richard Russo




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August 5, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters, Literary, NE & New York, y Award Winning Author

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